Do traffic tickets go up as economy goes down?

A word to the wise: keep to the speed limit. While that’s always good advice from both a safety and an economic perspective, it may be even more significant in the light of a recent study:

“A new study to be published in next month’s Journal of Law and Economics finds statistical evidence that local governments use traffic citations to make up for revenue shortfalls. So as the economy tanks, motorists may be more likely to see red and blue in the rearview.”

The study, which controlled for demographic and economic differences in the sample, included an analysis of data from 96 North Carolina counties over a 14 year period. The study authors stated, “Specifically, a one percentage point decrease in last year’s local government revenue results in roughly a 0.32 percentage point increase in the number of traffic tickets in the following year.
Other news reports seem to indicate that the volume of traffic tickets has risen in some states. For example, Connecticut police issued 78,000 speeding tickets in 2008. This 16% increase over the prior year added $327,000 in revenue to the state. And as a way to offset budget shortfalls, some other states are looking to increase fines for traffic violations. Florida basic traffic fines recently went up by $10, with some fines increasing by as much as $35 to $60.
Now many public officials would deny any link between the municipal budget and traffic tickets. Officials in Denver attribute last year’s 20% spike in parking ticket revenue not to the economy, but to increased fines, a spate of special events such as the Democratic Convention, and an increase in the number of personnel writing tickets.
It may well be true that any increase in local revenues from traffic-related tickets is coincidental. On the other hand, cash-strapped states and municipalities may see enhanced enforcement as a win-win that increases public safety while helping with a budget crunch. So next time you consider putting more pressure on the gas pedal or pulling into that illegal parking space because “you’ll only be a minute,” consider the fact that the odds might be working against you. And remember, a moving traffic violation is not just the matter of a one-time fine – in terms of your insurance rates, tickets can be a drain for several years to come since your rates are partially based on your experience.
Related reading
State Traffic Laws from FindLaw
Traffic Tickets, A to Z from FindLaw
How Traffic Tickets Work from How Stuff Works